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Dogs Back Legs Giving Out? Understanding Sudden Weakness in Canines - PawSafe

Dogs Back Legs Giving Out? Understanding Sudden Weakness in Canines

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

dogs back legs giving out

When your dog’s back legs start giving out, it’s alarming and can signify health issues that need immediate attention. It’s particularly common in older dogs as their joints and muscles aren’t as strong as they used to be when they were younger. Like humans, as dogs age, they can experience a deterioration in their physical health, which can impact their quality of life. It can be hard to see your furry friend in distress, and your priority is ensuring they’re comfortable and mobile for as long as possible.

For puppies and younger dogs, a sudden weakness in the hind legs could suggest an injury or a congenital condition that needs to be addressed. It’s essential to pay close attention to your dog’s behavior and physical abilities, noting any changes that could indicate a health concern. Regardless of your dog’s age, seeing a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan is crucial.

If you’re looking for insights into this condition, your go-to resource could be the expertise of Dr. Felix Michael Duerr, DMV, DACVS (SA), DECVS, who can provide answers about why a dog’s back legs might give out and the best steps to take to help your pet. Addressing the cause early on can help preserve your dog’s mobility and ensure they maintain a happy and active life.

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If you’ve noticed your dog struggling with their back legs, it can be a sign of several conditions. Let’s break severe canine lameness in the hind legs  down. Remember most of the reasons this happens are degenerative diseases, so you may first see signs like the dog’s back legs shaking or refusing to walk.

Degenerative Myelopathy (DM):

Over time, the spinal cord can deteriorate. It’s like the wires behind your TV getting worn out. This usually starts with wobbliness in the back legs and can progress over months to years.

Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)

It’s when the cushiony discs between the bones in the spine aren’t working correctly. Think of it as a jelly-filled donut getting squished — it’s painful and can affect leg function.

Injury or Trauma

Just like you might hurt your ankle while running, dogs can injure themselves, affecting their back legs. This could result from a bad fall or a rough play session. This is a common reason for sudden hind leg weakness, along with spinal strokes.

Joint Problems like Arthritis

This is when the joints get inflamed and it’s common in older dogs. They might start by having trouble standing up or show discomfort during walks.

Neurological Issues

There could be a problem with the nerves sending signals to the back legs. Picture a phone with a bad connection — it’s similar for the nerves not talking to the legs properly.

Remember to check with your vet because they can perform tests to figure out exactly what’s going on. Taking care of your furry friend’s health should always be a priority!

11 Common Reasons A Dog’s Back Legs Give Out

a dog with back legs giving out in wheelchair

When your dog’s back legs start giving out, it can be a confusing and stressful experience for both of you. The causes can range from joint issues to more serious neurological conditions. Understanding the underlying reasons will help you seek the appropriate care.

1. Arthritis and Joint Diseases (Dysplasia)

Arthritis, which often comes with age, causes inflammation in your dog’s joints. This can lead to pain and weakness in the back legs. Hip dysplasia, a form of degenerative joint disease, is another common condition that impacts the stability and function of a dog’s rear limbs.

2. Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD)

IVDD occurs when a disc in the spine either bulges or bursts. This can lead to severe pain and sometimes paralysis of the back legs. It’s particularly seen in dogs with longer spines, like dachshunds.

3. Degenerative Myelopathy

A progressive disease of the spinal cord, degenerative myelopathy generally affects older dogs. It starts with weakness in the back legs and gradually leads to paralysis. While it’s not painful, it significantly impairs mobility.

4. Fibrocartilaginous Embolism (FCE)

FCE is often called a spinal cord stroke. A piece of fibrocartilage from the intervertebral disc enters the bloodstream and causes an embolism. This leads to a sudden loss of limb function.

6. Spondylosis

Spondylosis involves the stiffening of the spine due to age or bone spurs. Although some dogs with spondylosis don’t show symptoms, others may exhibit pain and weakness in their hind legs.

7. Wobbler Syndrome

Wobbler syndrome can cause a wobbly walking pattern and leg paralysis in some breeds. It’s a condition affecting the neck’s vertebrae leading to spinal cord compression.

8. Brain or Spinal Tumors

Tumors can press against the brain or spinal cord, interfering with the signals to your dog’s legs. Symptoms can suddenly arise and may include weakness or loss of coordination in the legs.

9. Degenerative lumbosacral stenosis (DLSS)

DLSS is a condition characterized by nerve compression at the lower part of a dog’s back, that can lead to pain, weakness, or even paralysis of the hind legs.

10. Injury or Trauma

An injury to the brain, spine, bones, muscles, or ligaments in a dog’s back legs can result from accidents or strains. This might cause immediate limping or gradual weakness of the legs if left untreated.

11. Polyneuropathy

Polyneuropathy is a neurological condition involving multiple peripheral nerves. Causes include hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease. It often leads to general weakness, particularly in the back legs.

Understanding Canine Hind Leg Weakness

a Chihuahua who cant use back legs in wheelchair in grass

When your dog’s hind legs show signs of weakness, it’s important to understand the potential causes and symptoms to seek appropriate care.

Types of Hind Leg Weakness

Canine hind leg weakness can present in various forms:

  • Transient weakness: Temporary and often sudden loss of strength.
  • Progressive weakness: Gradual loss of leg function over time.
  • Partial paralysis: Some movement is possible, but control is limited.
  • Complete paralysis: No movement in the hind legs.

Common Causes

The underlying reasons for weakness in a dog’s hind legs include a range of health issues:

  1. Neurological issues: These can affect the brain, spinal cord, or nerves leading to the hind legs, causing symptoms like limping or shaking.
  2. Joint pain: Conditions like arthritis can lead to discomfort and a reluctance to move.
  3. Nerve damage: Injuries or degenerative diseases may result in impaired leg function.
  4. Spinal issues: Herniated discs or other spinal problems could lead to hind leg weakness.

Identifying Symptoms

Be aware of these signs that can indicate hind leg weakness in your dog:

  • Limping: An uneven gait or hesitation to put weight on a leg.
  • Muscle atrophy: Reduction in muscle mass on one or both hind legs.
  • Behavior changes: Less activity or reluctance to jump, run, or climb stairs.
  • Coordination problems: Difficulty balancing or a staggering gait might indicate neurological issues or spinal problems.

Learning about dog back leg shaking can give you more insights into possible conditions and actions you can take. Recognizing symptoms early and consulting with a veterinarian can help determine the cause of your dog’s hind leg weakness and the best course of treatment.

Why Do Old Dogs Have Their Back Legs Give Out?

When your older dog starts having trouble with its back legs, it can be a bit worrying. This issue is often related to age-related changes in their bodies. Think about it like this: as dogs get older, just like humans, they can develop arthritis or other joint problems, especially in their hips and knees. When the cartilage that cushions the joints wears down, it causes pain and difficulty moving.

  • Degenerative Myelopathy A disease called degenerative myelopathy might also be the culprit. This affects your dog’s spinal cord and leads to gradual weakness and eventually, paralysis of the hind limbs.
  • Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) IVDD can also cause back legs to give out. It happens when discs in the spine start to bulge or burst into the spinal cord space, pressing on nerves.
  • Other Health Issues Sometimes, other health problems like diabetes or Cushing’s disease can contribute to this problem because they affect muscle strength and balance.

Taking your dog to the vet is important. They might suggest:

  • Medication: to help with pain and inflammation
  • Physical Therapy: exercises to strengthen muscles
  • Support Harnesses: aids to help your dog move around more easily

Remember, early diagnosis and treatment can make a big difference in your dog’s quality of life. Keep an eye on their movement and don’t hesitate to seek professional help if you notice issues with their back legs.

Diagnosis and Veterinarian Involvement

When your dog’s back legs start giving out, it’s crucial to visit your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and to create an effective treatment plan. Early intervention can make a significant difference in your dog’s quality of life.

Initial Assessment

Your veterinarian will first perform a thorough physical examination to check for any obvious signs of injury, pain, or discomfort. They’ll observe how your dog walks, stands, and sits. They may also assess your dog’s reflexes, muscle strength, and nerve function, focusing on the hind legs and spine.

Diagnostic Tests

To understand the underlying cause of your dog’s mobility issues, the veterinarian might recommend various diagnostic tests. These could include:

  • X-rays: To detect bone-related issues
  • Blood tests: To rule out systemic conditions
  • CT scans or MRIs: For detailed images of the spine and leg structures
  • Myelography: To highlight abnormalities in the spinal cord

Creating a Treatment Strategy

Based on the diagnosis, a personalized treatment plan will be developed for your dog. This plan may include:

  • Medications: Anti-inflammatories or pain relievers
  • Surgery: If a severe structural problem is detected
  • Physical therapy: To strengthen muscles and improve mobility
  • Diet and exercise modifications: To reduce weight and relieve pressure on joints

Your veterinarian is your partner in ensuring your dog receives the best care for a happier, more mobile life.

Treatment Options and Management

When your dog’s back legs start giving out, it’s important to understand the range of treatment options and management strategies available. Options vary based on the underlying cause, and your vet will guide you through choices to best support your pet’s mobility and quality of life.

Medications and Supplements

If your dog is diagnosed with arthritis or joint pain leading to their back legs giving out, your vet might prescribe medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to manage pain and reduce inflammation. Supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin could also be recommended to support joint health. Check out a detailed breakdown of the effects of joint supplements for dogs with mobility issues.

Surgical Interventions

In cases where there’s a structural issue, like a ruptured disc or severe hip dysplasia, surgery may be necessary to correct the problem. Procedures can range from minimally invasive arthroscopy to major operations like total hip replacement. It’s crucial to discuss the risks and benefits of surgical options with your vet.

Physical Rehabilitation and Therapies

Physical therapy is a cornerstone of managing back leg weakness, which can include exercises to strengthen muscles, underwater treadmills for low-impact movement, and massages. Physical rehab can significantly improve mobility and lessen discomfort. Learn about techniques to prevent problems in your dog’s back legs through therapeutic exercises.

Alternative and Holistic Approaches

Some dog owners look into alternativ-e-archive therapies and consult a holistic veterinarian. Acupuncture, laser therapy, and chiropractic care are options that might benefit your dog. These approaches often focus on the whole animal and could be used alongside conventional treatments for a comprehensive pain management plan.

Improving Your Dog’s Quality of Life

When your dog’s back legs start giving out, it can be worrying, but there are several ways to help improve their quality of life. Focus on creating a comfortable environment, providing proper nutrition and exercise, and offering the right support and caregiving.

Home Adjustments and Aids

To help your dog with mobility issues, consider making practical changes at home. A variety of ramps or stairs can make it easier for your dog to access furniture or cars without jumping. Non-slip mats can provide extra grip, which is particularly helpful on hardwood or tile floors. These adjustments reduce the strain on your dog’s back legs and can prevent further injury.

Diet and Exercise

Balanced nutrition is crucial for maintaining joint health and weight management, which can relieve pressure on your dog’s legs. Foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids may support joint health. Regular, low-impact exercise such as swimming or short walks can keep joints moving and muscles strong without overstraining. Remember to always consult with your vet to tailor the diet and exercise plan to your dog’s specific needs.

Support and Caregiving

Lastly, provide consistent support and caregiving to your dog. This includes regularly scheduled vet visits to monitor their condition and potentially prescribed medications or supplements for joint health. Additionally, supportive devices such as harnesses or wheelchairs may be recommended to improve your dog’s mobility and allow them to enjoy daily activities with less discomfort. Your love and patience are also vital components of their care.

Living with Mobility Issues

When your dog starts having trouble with its back legs, finding the right support becomes crucial. You’ll need to consider not just physical aids but also the daily care strategies and community support that can make life easier for both of you.

Selecting Mobility Aids

Your first step is to choose the right mobility aids to give your four-legged friend the freedom to move around. Options range from harnesses and slings, which can help you lift and support your pet, to wheelchairs that allow for greater independence. The key is to find a solution that aligns with your dog’s needs — whether it’s full support for the hind legs or just a bit of help to maintain balance.

  • Harnesses and Slings: Great for short-term assistance, especially during recovery.
  • Wheelchairs: Offer long-term support for severe mobility issues.

Day-to-Day Care

Caring for a dog with mobility issues means establishing a daily routine that prioritizes their comfort and health. Focus on maintaining healthy joints and muscles through gentle exercise, like swimming, which can help without straining the back legs. Pay close attention to how your dog navigates the home — lay down non-slip mats where needed and keep essentials like food, water, and bedding within easy reach.

  • Exercise: Low-impact activities only, to preserve joint health.
  • Home Environment: Adapt to minimize risks and enhance accessibility.

Community and Emotional Support

Don’t underestimate the value of emotional support — for both you and your dog. Connect with local or online support groups where you can share experiences and tips with other pet parents. These communities can be a vital source of information, and the mutual encouragement is essential for morale.

  • Local Groups: Meet-ups and therapy sessions for hands-on support.
  • Online Communities: Forums and social media groups for advice and emotional backing.

Remember, facing mobility challenges can be a journey of adjustment, but with the right tools and a supportive community, you and your dog can still enjoy a fulfilling life together.

Preventing Hind Leg Problems

Hind leg issues in dogs can often be minimized through proper care and preventive strategies. Let’s look at how nutrition, exercise, and regular vet visits aid in keeping your dog’s legs strong and healthy.

Nutrition and Supplements

Your dog’s diet plays a crucial role in the health of their legs. Ensure they have a balanced diet to avoid obesity, which can strain the legs. Look for dog foods enriched with joint-supporting nutrients like glucosamine and omega-3 fatty acids. These can help maintain strong joints and reduce inflammation.

Routine Exercise and Care

Regular, gentle exercise can keep your dog’s legs and joints in good shape. It could be as simple as daily walks or tailored exercise for their age and breed. An orthopedic bed can provide your dog with the support they need for their joints and help prevent problems that could cause their legs to give out.

Other Conditions

Keep an eye out for signs of other conditions that could affect your dog’s leg health, such as arthritis or hip dysplasia. Early detection can be key to managing these issues. If you notice changes in how your dog walks, sits, or stands, it’s important to address these signs promptly.

Regular Check-Ups

Finally, regular vet visits are essential for prevention. A veterinarian can spot early signs of hind leg issues and advise you on the best course of action to take. They can also recommend specific exercises, diets, or supplements suitable for your dog’s needs.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

When your dog’s back legs start giving out, it’s important to understand the causes and what you can do to help. Identifying the cause, providing support, and knowing how to respond are crucial for your dog’s wellbeing.

What causes dogs to suddenly lose strength in their hind legs?

Sudden loss of strength in your dog’s hind legs can be due to serious issues like intervertebral disc disease, severe arthritis, or even a condition known as FCE, where a blood vessel within the spinal cord becomes blocked. Immediate veterinary attention is necessary in these cases.

How can I support my dog if its back legs are failing?

When your dog’s back legs are failing, you can support them by using harnesses or slings to help them move around. Reducing their weight can also take pressure off their legs. Physical therapy and prescribed exercises from your vet can provide additional support.

How can you strengthen an older dog’s back legs?

To strengthen an older dog’s back legs, encourage gentle and regular exercise like walking or swimming. Your vet might also recommend specific exercises that target the hind legs to help maintain muscle mass and joint mobility.

What could be the reason for a young dog’s back legs to collapse?

For a young dog, back legs collapsing could point to conditions such as hip dysplasia, a genetic and developmental problem, or even early-onset of degenerative diseases. Prompt veterinary diagnosis is important to manage these conditions.

What should you do when an elderly dog’s hind legs start to give out?

If you have an elderly dog whose hind legs are starting to give out, consult your vet who can suggest treatments such as medication for arthritis or joint supplements. Making your home more accessible with ramps and minimizing the need to climb stairs can also help.

How can you tell if a senior dog is in pain due to back leg issues?

You can tell your senior dog is in pain if they are less active, hesitating to jump or climb stairs, showing changes in their gait, whimpering, or licking the affected area. Your vet can help you determine the best pain management strategy.

Final Thoughts

When your dog’s back legs start giving out, it can be a worrisome sign. But don’t panic. It’s important to observe which symptoms are appearing. Is it a sudden weakness or a slow decline? Your observations can provide valuable insights to your vet.

  • Sudden weakness could indicate an injury or a condition like Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD).
  • Gradual weakness might be related to arthritis or hip dysplasia.

Keep in mind these steps:

  1. Stay calm. Your dog can sense your emotions.
  2. Don’t self-diagnose. Book a visit to the vet.
  3. Keep them comfortable. Provide a soft, accessible space.

Check out “The intelligence of dogs” for more insights into your canine’s health.

Remember, you’re not alone in this. There’s a community and professionals ready to help. Your furry friend depends on you, and with the right care, many dogs with mobility issues still enjoy a great quality of life. Keep an eye on their diet, exercise needs, and vet visits. Your dedication to their health makes all the difference.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.